Robots Like Us
Who we are? Who are our creators? What’s the purpose of our life? What are we supposed to accomplish?
You probably won’t believe it, but I’ve decided to write a series of posts that, in the end, will address some of these questions. Not because I know the answer, of course — moreover, it’s reasonable to expect that truly verifiable answer to e.g. the first two of these questions won’t be found during our lifespan. I want to write the series mostly to share what I learned so far — hopefully, in a bit unusual, but simple and interesting way.
I’d like to start from a story — a fictional one.
When humans started to colonize Milky Way galaxy, robots were the actual colonists: carbon-based life was too fragile for the majority of resource-rich environments. A few initial generations of our robots were fairly simple: “leave the ship and collect the resources while you can” is the way they operated. But interstellar flights were expensive, and life span of each these robots was limited. That’s how they ended up being replaced by self-replicating Cella bots — capable of building the identical copies of themselves from a part of resources they scavenge. Small molecular 3D-printer, hard-coded self-replication program, solar panel, rechargeable battery, the AI focused on cloning the bot twice through their expected lifespan, and spending any excess of energy on gathering stuff they know nothing about and delivering it to the ship — that was a definition of success!
Interstellar ships delivering Cella bots weren’t perfect as well. When we’ve lost contact with one of such ships, no one knew Spark was moving straight forward while its autopilot optimized the route… by counting all 64-bit integers down to zero due to a buggy loop exit code.
100 years on almost the speed of light, and fortunately for Cella bots on Spark, the autopilot finishes counting. It lands the ship on the nearest planet— obviously, an unknown one — a billion light-years away from the Milky Way.
No way to communicate with human control centers. No instructions. Autopilot, the smartest part of the robotic colony, decides to unleash the bots, since… There is no way it wastes a second of precious time after losing a billion of years.
By now, the whole continent of planet’s surface is covered by Cellas. They can swim, or course, but “escape water no more than in 5 minutes, or shut down” rule prevents them from conquering oceans and spreading to other continents.
Cellas don’t collect resources anymore: the ship and the autopilot went out of order long time ago, and since bots can’t communicate with each other, the newer generations simply didn’t know where to move the resources they collect. But they can replicate, which is their only remaining goal now.
Hundreds of generations of bots ceased to exist: they were designed to function for just a few years. The operational ones make their replicas not just from the resources they collect, but from the parts of non-functioning bots they find more and more frequently due to a growing population density.
And finally, they start to compete with each other: “clone yourself twice” rule still works perfectly, so the number of operational bots is doubling with each generation. But the resources to power the growth are getting more and more scarce.
That’s where the Cella story becomes really exciting.
To be continued.
P.S. A few days ago my son shared a short movie, which fits incredibly well in the context of this post. I hope you’ll enjoy watching it: